At this week’s Yellow Medicine East School Board meeting Superintendent Rich Schneider spoke to a crowded room of staff, students, and parents about his recommended budget cuts. Schneider highlighted declining enrollment as an issue and projects that next year the number of students will continue to decrease, and student enrollment determines funding. Governor Tim Walz has proposed a 3% increase to the funding formula which would help but that isn’t a guarantee to pass.
Schneider highlighted the budget deficit history of the school. Last year the budget deficit was $113,000, this year it was $331,300, and next year Schneider projected it to be $731,000 if no changes are made. Some of the larger contributing factors to the deficit include the increased cost of the superintendent (Schneider pointed out that this is due to him being full time and not part time), employee settlements, adjustments to staff salaries, and the special education cross subsidy. Some constraints on the budget include special education being a fixed cost, employee agreements (non-tenured, seniority, ULA), employee licensure, and cutting programs.
Schneider's recommended cuts include cutting $148,000 from the middle school and high school, $215,000 from the elementary, $15,000 from food services, and $88,000 in Custodial staff costs. Proposed activities cuts include Intramurals, JH/SH Knowledge Bowl, Musical Assistant, JH football coach, JH volleyball, JH wrestling, and drama and science club supervisors totaling 22,500.
Schneider finished up the presentation by discussing other possible cuts and considerations as well as laying out a timeline for decisions. There will be a work session on March 19th at 6:00 PM that is open to the public and a special School Board meeting on March 25th at 6:00 PM.
There weren’t any comments from the audience on the presentation but there was a feeling of frustration and confusion throughout the room. Most of the audience quietly left after the presentation was over.
After the budget presentation Elementary Principal Lisa Hansen gave a report and demonstrated some online programs she plans to use for staff development, as well as the opportunity for staff to make up hours due to snow days.
High school and middle school Principal Ryan Luft gave a report and updated the board on students test score information and projections and talked about online staff development through Google Classroom. Luft also discussed a recent project for a middle school science class where students made video presentations with their phones, and showed some of the students videos to the Board.
Education Minnesota field representative Tammy Barnes, who represents the staff at Yellow Medicine East discussed a level 3 grievance appeal with the Board. A teacher was punished for taking three unpaid days off after their request to do so was denied. Barnes explained that the teacher was given three days of unpaid suspension (for the three days the teacher missed) and the teacher had six days of benefits taken from them, which the teacher had to pay for (the three days they missed plus the three days of suspension).
Barnes asked the board to reduce the discipline the teacher had received. Barnes recognized Schneider had the authority to deny the use of unpaid leave and to issue punishment, however she pointed out that the Principal had approved it initially but came back to the teacher and said that Superintendent Schneider was actually the person who had to approve it.
Barnes explained the teacher is a 23 year veteran at YME and that they were gone three days at the end of January, Barnes also pointed out two of those days were online staff development days and that the teacher had only missed one day of student contact. Barnes asked that the punishment be reduced to one unpaid day of suspension and asked for all six days of the benefits to be paid back. Barnes also said the teacher was willing to make up both days of staff development and would accept a letter in the file.
Barnes explained the teacher had a lot of years in the district, which included a lot of coming early and staying late, and told the board the three days of unpaid suspension were overkill and said one day would be acceptable because that was loss of time with students.
Barnes also pointed out this was a new rule and that it was difficult for teachers to understand who is responsible for telling teachers when they have used their unpaid vacation days and when they could use their next unpaid vacation days.
The Board asked if there was documentation of the principal initially approving the request. Barnes explained that there was documentation of the initial approval in the system. The Board went on to argue that by taking those three days off the teacher was aware of a violation in the master agreement.
Barnes argued it was understood that it had been denied by the superintendent, but said that the punishment was over the top. She also stressed that in 16 years of working at her job she has never seen anyone on unpaid suspension have to pay for their benefits.
Some members of the Board appeared to be confused with the original punishment and the proposed reduction in the punishment. After some discussion a member of the Board made a motion to accept the proposal of one unpaid day of suspension instead of three and to give back the six days of benefits.
Before the vote one of the Board members wanted clarification on how the request was denied. Barnes explained the request was made at the end of November and that the teacher was notified by Schneider in early December that if they did leave they would be disciplined however the discipline wasn’t explained until just prior to the teacher leaving. Barnes said that a month and a half went by without any explanation of the discipline or what it would be. When the teacher asked what the discipline would be they were informed by Schneider that he “didn’t know” and that it might occur after the teacher had returned.
Barnes informed the Board that the teacher didn’t accept the denial because airfare and accomodations were already made after the initial approval by the principal and that canceling at that point wasn’t an option for the teacher. The Board said that they expect Schneider to be consistent and to treat everyone the same regardless of experience, and said they would expect him to handle other issues like this similarly. Barnes again said the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and that it feels like an eye for an eye.
Up to this point Schneider had remained quiet and the Board asked for his take on the issue. Schneider said he considers staff development days equally important as student contact days, and explained how he wants to be consistent in discipline, he also said that whatever decision the Board makes he will incorporate into future punishments.
Barnes responded by saying the district was talking about virtual staff development makeup days in the meeting, and reiterated that the teacher would gladly make up those development days. The Board asked if the teacher was willing to compromise and take three days of benefits back but still have the three day unpaid suspension and three days of benefits taken away.
Barnes agreed to discuss the compromise with the teacher and left the room to discuss it. Before Barnes left the room the Board voted on the initial proposal Barnes made and denied it 3-2 with one member deciding not to vote. There were some sighs heard from staff in the room after the initial proposal wasn’t accepted.
After a few minutes Barnes returned to the room and proposed that the six days of benefits be returned and the teacher would accept the three days of unpaid suspension. The Board didn’t agree with that counter offer and Schneider again explained any decision the Board makes he will use that decision to be more consistent with discipline in the future.
A member of the Board proposed three days of benefits be returned, the teacher make up the two staff development days which they would be paid for, and only be given one day of unpaid suspension. Barnes and the teacher left the room again to discuss the offer, after discussion with the Teacher Barnes said that would be agreeable.
A motion was made with a second for the newly agreed to version of the punishment, but during discussion a member of the board had issues with consistency and viewed three unpaid days and three days of lost benefits as the most consistent form of punishment. After more discussion with Barnes the Board denied the revised punishment again with a 3-3 vote.
There was a momentary silence in the room. Barnes and multiple staff members were visibly frustrated at this point. The majority of the Board seemed unwilling to pass any of the compromises that were already discussed at length and agreed to in theory.
After more discussion the Board proposed three days of suspension and would pay back three of the six days of benefits. Barnes and the teacher again left the room to discuss the new proposal and came back with another counter offer. Barnes said the teacher would accept the three unpaid days of suspension as long as they returned all six days of benefits because that was the most important thing for the teacher.
The Board again didn’t agree with the proposal, and instead made a motion to return three days of the benefits but keep the three days of unpaid suspension and the other three days of unpaid benefits. The motion was passed unanimously. Barnes said the teacher will make the decision on whether or not they accept the Boards decision or if they want to seek arbitration.
The appeal lasted about an hour, by the end Barnes nor the majority of staff members seemed satisfied with the outcome and most of the discussion had gone nowhere. There was sense of confusion in the room as to where the affected 23 year veteran with the district would go from there.
In Other News:
-The Board approved various resignations and new hires and handled other business
-Schneider gave a district report and discussed the new gym project and also gave an update on contract work that is needed for the project